Your Depression and Your Dog

One of the most despicable and manipulative commercials I have ever seen was one for an antidepressant. The ad showed all of the ways people around the depressed person were suffering because of the depressed person’s condition. One of the ads showed a dog picking up a ball, only to look disappointed when he didn’t get to play. The implication was that your depression breaks your dog’s heart.

If you suffer from depression you probably are already aware of the impact it has on your dog. Maybe you forget to feed them for a few hours. Maybe your dog doesn’t get as many walks. Maybe you overfeed them out of guilt. Maybe you could be more vigilant about refreshing the water bowl for them. Maybe you are late with the heartworm preventative, or put off well-pet visits for a few months.

Well, guess what? Your dog is resilient. They love you, and even if they don’t get everything they need from you, they get most of what they need. Their lives are still dream lives compared to hundreds of thousands of other dogs. They are warm, safe, fed, and loved. When you feel better, you’ll give them more, and they will be as blissfully happy as they always have been.

Your depression changes you, I know. But one of the few things it cannot impact is the way you feel about, and treat, your companion animals. If you have loved and cared for your dog before, I am quite sure that you are still loving and caring for your dog now. Quite sure. Many of the best pet owners I know battle depression. In fact, people with depression often have special gifts when it comes to animals, especially troubled ones.

Here are a few tips that might help you to help manage your depression’s impact on your dog.

  1. Talk to the animal lovers you know in the neighborhood. Explain that you haven’t been able to walk your dog and would they mind taking your dog with them sometimes? If you don’t want to say you’re depressed, lie. I know I would gladly walk a neighbor’s dog. It’s like having a consequences-free affair because I get to hang out with another dog.
  2. If your depression is a comorbid condition from another illness, consider contacting your local high school and seeing if you can arrange for students to get service hours for walking your dog.
  3. See if there are any children in your neighborhood who would like to play with your dog. There are a lot of dog-crazy kids out there, and kids who need to get their scouting badges, and even kids who need to do science projects who might be glad to spend a few hours.  (Before you freak out about the idea of science projects, I can tell you that some girls in our neighborhood did one on our dogs on which dog foods dogs preferred. Considering that two of my three dogs at the time were part beagle, this was a joyful experience for my dogs, who created so much chaos that they were able to eat bowl after bowl of dog food.)
  4. Find out where the dog parks are and take your dog there. Wear sunglasses and ignore the humans.  Pretend to talk on the phone. Walk your dog at off-hours so you don’t have to meet people. Wear an iPod and sunglasses. Wear a cloak of invisibility if you feel like it. No one who is worth caring about is going to think less of you if you don’t stop to chat. Remember, you’re doing it for your dog. Remember, too, that most people who see you out walking your dog are probably looking at your dog, not you.
  5. Let your dog sleep on the bed with you, or sit on the couch with you. Proximity means a LOT to dogs. It’s an easy way of passively giving them affection.
  6. If you find you are unable to take care of your dog’s basic needs, such as feeding, obtaining emergency vet care, and getting them outside to go potty and get some exercise, then let someone know. See if someone you trust will take your dog until you recover. If not, then you need to think about whether you need to rehome your dog.

I admit I was a little worried that some day, someone would use this article as an excuse for seriously neglecting their dog: “I was depressed!” However, I quickly remembered that people who treat their dogs poorly never lack for excuses. They’ll latch on to anything. So I’m not going to avoid encouraging people who need it just because awful people might take advantage of it.

Hang in there and remember, your dog loves you. That’s their job, and they do it brilliantly. When you feel better in a few weeks or months, you’ll make it up to them. In the interim, take care of yourself so you can take care of them.


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Moretta is a caring nurturer, a member of several 12-step programs, but not a licensed therapist. Her Twitter is

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